Halloween Horror Countdown: The Modern Classics

It’s the second week of October! That means “Spooky Month” is in full swing. I’ve got my Halloween costume ready (Brienne of Tarth), I’m midway through my local theater’s retro horror film festival, and I’ve not quite reached my quota on pumpkin spice coffee for the season.

I’ve given you my list of classic horror films that I think are worth your time. (If you missed it, read it here). Here is my list of modern horror classics that ought to be on your screen this fall. As with my previous list, this is not to be considered an exhaustive list, as there are far too many good quality films to enumerate here and I know there are gaps in my own knowledge. I am defining “modern horror” as any film from the 1990s to the present day. 

1. It (1990 and 2017/2019)


Maybe it’s cheating to say both versions of It, but I don’t care. It’s an amazing story that’s worth your time. Pick your preference–Tim Curry vs. Bill Skarsgård, retro vs. modern, TV mini-series vs. two-part film. It doesn’t matter because neither is a bad choice. What keeps me coming back to It is not the clown, but the film’s metaphor for working through childhood trauma in adulthood. That resonates more deeply with me than any of the scary stuff. 

2. The Silence of the Lambs (1991)


I would be remiss if I did not include on a list of modern horror classics the only horror film to ever win best picture at the Oscars. I just watched this one for the first time recently. What I love about this film is its cinematography, compelling heroine in Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster), and eerily calm and psychologically disturbing villain in Hannibal Lecter (Sir Anthony Hopkins). As a southern lady, I also enjoyed this positive portrayal of a southern lady on my screen. This film is more of a psychological mystery-thriller seasoned with a healthy dash of horror. It’s a film that I think even non-horror fans should see and would likely enjoy. 

3. Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)


Guillermo Del Toro is always a favorite around my house, but I put Pan’s Labyrinth on this list for the use of magical realism, the ethereal creepiness of the labyrinth, and the stunning performances by brilliant character actor Doug Jones as The Faun and The Pale Man and Ivana Baquero as Ofelia. This is a horror film I enjoyed before I enjoyed horror films because I loved the fantastical elements. I’ll caution though that this film is extremely violent and not for the faint of heart. If you’d like to hear me wax philosophical in further detail about this film, check out this installment of Mythgard Movie Club where I got to be part of a discussion panel on the film.

4. It Follows (2014)


It Follows is an underrated master class in cinematography and its use of a simple motif in order to create terror is brilliant. So much of this film is clearly inspired by John Carpenter’s Halloween, that it made me giddy. The over-the-shoulder camera work, haunting score, all of it is an homage to John Carpenter’s work. There’s much to be said for the simple things that create horror. That’s why I’m recommending you check out It Follows this season. 

5. The Witch (2015)


The Witch is another underrated work of horror. What I enjoyed the most about this film is its use of long shots and disorienting score. The camera work creates a sense of entrapment, like you can run from the horror because the camera won’t move. What I also love about this film is that there are no bad performances whatsoever. Game of Thrones alums, Kate Dickie and Ralph Ineson play the perfect pair of frantic parents. Anya Taylor-Joy (Split and Glass) is the real standout though. Her descent into terror is what really shines about this film. Subtle, understated, and utterly creepy, The Witch is the perfect period piece for your Halloween horror viewing.

6. Halloween (2018)


While I always find adaptation and sequels to be an interesting subject of study, I was not anticipating just how much I would adore the 2018 Halloween. This film pays homage to all previous Halloween sequels via visual cues, while simultaneously ignoring the content of their stories. And let’s be honest, canon is a tricky beast when it comes to the Halloween franchise anyway, so the only film you need to see before watching this one is the original. What I love the most about this film is the inversion of tropes and roles when it comes to Laurie Strode and Michael Myers. I adore every single visual nod to the original film. While the Halloween franchise is my favorite of the slasher film subgenre, this is the only one of the Halloween sequels that I love as much as the original film. I love the powerful women in this film and I eagerly await the two sequels planned for this new trilogy. 

7. Us (2019)


Jordan Peele’s latest film offering is just as important as his first. While there are no bad performances in this film, Lupita Nyong’o’s performance is Oscar-worthy. The film’s cinematography, incredible score, and poignant metaphor make it a modern classic, but also an incredibly important film for our time. What I also love about this film is the way Jordan Peele creates a new touchstone for the horror genre, but also demonstrates his knowledge of the genre. This is a horror film for those that don’t like horror, but also a horror film that is important for the world today. 

Stay tuned to Fangirlish this Halloween season, where I’ll be sharing my love of the horror genre all month. Stay spooky!

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